Oh, our dearest West End, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.
We love thee by summer sun—especially after the long delay in the arrival of warm weather—when we gobble our way down your sidewalks, down to the beaches of English Bay, the trails of Stanley Park, and the spectacles of the Celebration of Light and the Pride parade.
Alas and alack, our hearts were broken over the recent losses of establishments the Dover Arms Pub, West Valley Market, Acacia Fillo Bar, Village eatery, and more. We send our sincere condolences. Ah, but we have also noticed that quite a number of jaunty new places have popped up to soothe our souls.
Let us list the burgeoning spots we most adore, shall we?
Oh, you know us too well. While La Catrina Mexican Tacos down at English Bay has been drawing lineups over the past year, we’re glad to see more entries in the always popular Mexican market.
The chilled-out Avocado Bay (second floor, 1184 Denman Street), which opened on Canada Day weekend, exudes a vacation feel with its vistas of English Bay. Its all-avocado menu, though, is the clincher. More tacos are always great, but it’s the novel items that pique interest: avoburgers ($7.95), made with tuna or veggies between two slices of avocados in lieu of buns; Mexi-Can poutine ($9.95), with green-salsa gravy and queso fresco; and even avocado cheesecake ($7.95). Who said it’s not easy being green?
As sad as we were when the 12-year-old Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina closed its doors in April, we were uplifted by the opening of the similarly Mexican-inspired Lucha Verde (1326 Davie Street) in its place. A vegetarian restaurant that carnivores won’t mind? Yes, please. We’re smitten with the creative range of taco varieties, including achiote cauliflower with toasted-pumpkin purée and orange salsa, kabocha with corn sauce and watermelon salsa, and pasilla barbecued jackfruit with pineapple salsa ($6 to $7). ¡Salud! to that.
We’re encouraged by how Touhenboku Ramen reinvented itself. With the ramen profusion in that area, it’s great to see Yuzu Shokutei (854 Denman Street) expand its offerings beyond noodles to offer an ever-evolving menu that includes rice sets, salads, okonomiyaki ($8), and even poké bowls ($18 to $20).
Not far from there, we also welcomed Tetsu Sushi Bar (775 Denman Street). Its small size (in the former Lanna Thai) belies its wide-ranging menu, which even includes rare offerings such as yamaimo (mountain potato) salad with ume-infused (plum) Japanese mountain potato, asparagus, organic spring greens, and seaweed ($7); miso-marinated sockeye salmon sake kasuzuke ($11); and foie gras don ($15). Particularly pleasing are the reasonable prices for rolls ($4 to $5) and sushi ranging from tuna tataki (five pieces, $7; 10 pieces, $14) to aburi ($2.75 to $9.50). With limited seating that fills fast, we find this one’s great for takeout.
Health-food options have been steadily increasing, suiting the area’s body-oriented fitness culture and plentiful outdoor activities. For instance, the prepackaged meals at Fit Camp Foods (1107 Davie Street)—covering main dishes, bowls, salads, and wraps, including coconut-cauliflower rice with seasoned broccoli, a sweet potato–yam hash bowl, Thai noodle salad, and more (all primarily vegetarian with meat or tofu additions)—is a convenient spot for grabbing nutritious chow on the go.
Learning about the ethical and environmental approach of the rustic Pasture to Plate Grill, Broths, and Deli (1061 Denman Street) will remain a challenge for those dissuaded by its prices. Nonetheless, we’re heartened to know that it supports free-range, grass-fed herds with environmental practices to preserve soil health. The owners run a vaccine- and chemical-free Redstone, B.C., certified-organic farm that supplies the meat for the richly flavoured likes of their voluptuous half-pound Kinikinik burger ($18) or their beef-wiener ranch dog ($14). A smart move has been to offer specials, such as weekend brunch items, quarter-pound sliders, and summer salads.
With fish ’n’ chips joints like Mr. Pickwick’s and C-Lovers no longer in the area, there was a conspicuous absence of seafood places. Luckily, Louisiana seafood-boil spot Holy Crab (1588 Robson Street) helped respond to demand. With a hands-on approach (tools are supplied), customers can literally rip into all manner of shellfish, from king-crab legs and Nova Scotia lobster to freshwater crawfish (seasonal rates). Holy crab, indeed, Batman. There are also dishes like chicken strips ($9.50), seafood bisque ($6.50), or deep-fried calamari ($7.50) for those who don’t want to get their hands dirty.
Quite promisingly, Hook Seabar, which Blind Sparrow owner Michael Gayman opened on July 13, has landed a prime beachside perch at the former Milestones English Bay location (1210 Denman Street). Seafood selections range from tempura salmon bellies with chili sauce ($15) and poblano and crab dip with a panko crust ($16) to whole branzino ($35) and pan-seared halibut ($35).
The raw bar serves poké ($16), tuna tartare ($17) sashimi, nigiri, five varieties of oysters, and sushi rolls such as scallop ceviche and lobster ($16) and wagyu beef and crab ($18). But there are also nonseafood selections like a burrata-and-beet salad ($14), barbecued rack of lamb ($32), and hamburger with bacon weave, applewood cheddar, and Kennebec fries ($19). With all this range, who needs to go to the beach?
Among the West End’s best-kept secrets is Forkhill House Irish Bistro (1616 Alberni Street), which—quite brilliantly—opened in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Tucked away in what formerly housed Le Gavroche, this modern spin on Irish cuisine brings traditional fare like Irish stew ($18) and bangers and mash (Bang the Duchess, $20) hurtling into the 21st century with aplomb and panache.
The Taiwanese café 3 Quarters Full, set back a few steps from bustling Denman Street at 1789 Comox Street in the Denman Mall, is a stylish, Asian-influenced alternative to the typical coffeeshops. After all, where else in the area can you find black-sugar loaf, fried-tofu bao, matcha naidong roll, Tawainese-style sandwiches, and handmade mung-bean cake?
In the past, the long-running True Confections was one of the few dessert-specific spots in the neighbourhood, and we’re glad to see more places joining in sugar-fuelled fun.
We’d be amiss if the chocolate bistro Cacao 70 (1047 Denman Street) wasn’t on our list. The Montreal-based company specializes in dark chocolate with a decadent array of desserts and brunch items from fondue to waffles and sandwiches. (The bistro launched a revamped, streamlined menu on July 4.) Three more locations are set to open throughout Vancouver—two creameries and one to-go spot—but the West End location will remain the only full bistro.
Peaked Pies (975 Denman Street) may be best known for its Australian savoury meat pies (’roo, anyone?) but they also serve an array of Aussie desserts, including lamingtons ($3.50), or coconut-sprinkled sponge cake, and mixed berry pies ($6.75). The vanilla slice ($3.95), perfectly pink for celebrating Pride with, is literally the icing on the cake.
The sweet and petite La Churreria (1105 Davie Street) has also charmed us with their offerings of sugar- and cinnamon-sprinkled churros ($2.25), with filling options like chocolate, dulce de leche, Nutella, or jam ($3.25). Yum.
After all, our beloved West End, we shall love thee better after dessert.
P.S. Apologies to poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.